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For example: the precepts, Thou shalt have no other Gods before me,' and · Thou shalt honour thy father and thy mother, become truths, when written in this manner. It is right, or it is thy duty, to have no other Gods before me; or to honou thy father and thy mother.
I have now, if I mistake not, clearly evinced the falsehood of the doctrine which I have opposed, and shown it to be equally contrary to the Scriptures, and to the common sense of mankind.
Whenever this doctrine has been honestly imbibed, it has, I presume, been imbibed from a misapprehension of the influence of that acknowledged principle of philosophy, that in receiving impressions from all objects, the mind is passive only; and, therefore, is necessitated to receive just such impressions as the objects presented to its view are fitted to make. No man, acquainted with the state of the human mind, will call this principle in question. But no man of this character can rationally imagine that it can at all affect the subject of this Discourse, so as to furnish any support to the scheme which I am opposing
The amount of this principle is exactly this ; that God has so constituted the mind, and has formed objects in such a manner, that they uniformly present to the mind their real state and nature, and not another. Were this not the structure of the mind, and the proper efficacy of the objects with which it is conversant, it would either be never able to see truly, or would never know when it saw in this manner. This constitution of things, then, is indispensable to our discernment of their true nature; and without it we could never be able, satisfactorily, to distinguish truth from falsehood.
But nothing is more evident than that this constitution of things in no degree affects the subject in debate. In no sense is it true that, because we have such optics, and the things with which we are conversant such a nature, we are, therefore, obliged to turn our eyes to any given object, to view it on any given side, to examine it in any given manner; or to connect it in our investigation with any other particular set of objects. Truth is the real agreement or disagreement of ideas asserted in propositions. The relations of these ideas are its basis. Now we can compare and connect what ideas we please, in what manner we please, and by the aid of any other intervening
ideas which we choose. In this manner we can unite and separate them at pleasure ; and thus either come to the knowledge of truth, or the admission of falsehood, according to our inclinations. All these things, also, we can refuse to do; and in both cases we act in a manner perfectly voluntary. Were we not passive in the mere reception of ideas, we should see to no purpose.
Were we not active in comparing and connecting them, we should see only under the influence of physical necessity.
From these considerations it is evident, unless I am deceived, that this principle, so much relied on by those with whom I am contending, has not the least influence towards the support of their scheme.
From these observations wo learn,
1. Why men in exactly the same circumstances, judge and believe very differently concerning the same objects.
When a question or doctrine is proposed to the consideration of several men, in the same terms, with the same arguments, and at the same time; we, almost of course, find them judging and deciding concerning it in different manners. Were our judgment, or, what is here the same thing, our faith, the result of mere physical necessity, this fact could never take place. But it is easily explained, as the natural course of things, where such judges as men are concerned. When a question is thus proposed, one declines or neglects to inquire altogether. Another listens only to the evidence on one side. A third, partially to that on both sides. A fourth, partially to that on one side, and wholly to that on the other. And a fifth, to all the evidence which he can find. One cares nothing about the question ; another is predetermined to give his decision on one side ; and another resolves to decide according to truth. One is too lazy, another too indifferent, another too biassed, and another too self-sufficient, to discover truth at all. In all these, except the candid, thorough examiner, the conduct which they adopt on this subject is sin. Inclination, choice, bias of mind, prevents them from coming to the knowledge of the truth. If they loved truth, as their duty demands, they would easily and certainly find it. Their indifference to it, or their hatred of it, is the true reason why they find it not; and the real explanation of the strange manner in which they judge, and of their otherwise inexplicable faith in doctrines, not only absurd, but unsupported even by specious evidence.
2. From these observations also it is evident, that faith may be a virtuous, and unbelief a sinful, affection of the mind.
Truth is the foundation of all good. On this, as their basis, rests the character, designs, goverument, and glory of the Creator, and all the happiness and virtue of the intelligent universe. But the only way in which truth can be useful to intelligent creatures, or the means of the divine glory, is by being believed. Every degree of happy influence which truth has, or can have, on the intelligent kingdom, is, therefore, derived entirely from faith ; so far as absolute knowledge is not attainable. On faith, then, all these amazing interests wholly rest. That which is not believed cannot be obeyed. The influence of truth cannot commence in our minds, until our faith in it has commenced. Universal unbelief, therefore, would completely destroy the divine kingdom and the general happiness at once. Of course partial unbelief, the unbelief of many, a few, or vne, aims directly at the same destruction.
Since, then, faith is a voluntary exercise of the mind, it follows that, whenever it is exercised towards moral objects, it is virtuous ; is an effort of the mind directed to the promotion of this immense good which I have specified. To the degree in which it may be thus virtuous, no limits can be affixed; but it may rise to such a height as to occupy all the supposable powers of any intelligent creature.
On the contrary, unbelief, when directed towards moral objects, being always voluntary, is always sinful. Its efficacy, as opposed to the glory of God and the good of the universe, has been already mentioned. Its insolence towards the divine character is exhibited in the strongest terms by St. John, in this memorable declaration, · He that believeth not God, bath made him a liar.' What a reproach is this to the Creator! What an impious expression of contempt to the infinitely blessed Jehovah ! The very insult offered to him by the old
serpent, in his seduction of our first parents ! Them this unbelief destroyed; and, from that melancholy day, it has been the great instrument of perdition to their posterity. Faith is the only medium of our access to God. To come to him'
• must believe that he is ;' for without such belief he would be to us a mere nihility. Atheism, therefore, cuts a man off from all access to God; and consequently from all love, and all obedience. Were the universe atheistical, it would cease from all moral connection with its Creator. Deism, though a humbler degree of the same spirit, produces exactly the same effects. • He that believeth not the Son, hath not life; but the wrath of God abideth on him. Practical unbelief, the same spirit in a degree still inferior, is, however, followed by the same miserable consequences. A mere speculative belief leaves the heart and the life as it found them, opposed to God, and the objects of his indignation. The speculative believer, therefore, although advanced a step beyond the Deist, and two beyond the Atheist, is still disobedient and rebellious,
without hope, and without God in the world.'
In my last Discourse I attempted to show, that faith and unbelief are voluntary exercises of the mind, and may, therefore, be virtuous or sinful; and to refute the objections against this doctrine. This I did, without critically examining the nature of faith, which I purposely reserved for a separate discussion. This is evidently the next object of inquiry. I shall, therefore, endeavour in this Discourse to explain the faith of the Gospel; or the faith by which we are justified.
I. Faith in this sense respects God as its object.
Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness,' Gen. xv. 6; Rom. iv. 3; Gal. iii. 6; James ii. 33. Without faith it is impossible to please him : for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is the rewarder of them that diligently seek him,' Heb. xi. 6. • Believe in the Lord your God; so shall ye be established,' 2 Chron. ii. 20. Who by him,' says St. Peter to the Christians to whom he wrote, do believe in God, that raised him up from the dead and gave him glory, that your faith and hope might be in God,' 1 Peter i. 21. The jailer rejoiced, believing in God with all his house,' Acts xvi. 34. • That they